The Tonys: Wrapping Up a Weak Season

The Tony nominations are out, and they have brought home something that hadn’t really occurred to me as I raced through the busy last few weeks of Broadway openings.  It’s been a pretty bad season.

Yes, I saw several things I enjoyed, but as I look back, nearly all of them were revivals. The powerful two-part revival of Angels in America, imported from London, certainly deserves its 11 nominations (the most for any play), and Denzel Washington is a force of nature in George C. Wolfe’s fine revival of The Iceman Cometh. I had some quibbles with the revivals of Carousel and My Fair Lady, but heck, they’ll make for some great numbers on next months’s Tony show.

But when you look at the nominees in the two major categories — Best Play and Best Musical — you realize how slim the pickings were. For Best Musical, The Band’s Visit is the clear critical favorite — but I still maintain it’s an off-Broadway show that’s in over its head. That Mean Girls and SpongeBob SquarePants got a whopping 12 nominations apiece is testament to the dearth of credible contenders. Oh yes, and there’s Disney’s Frozen,  which did manage a Best Musical nod (and would probably be my pick for the award). But this beautifully designed show was, unaccountably,  shut out of every single technical category. How much does the New York theater establishment hate Disney? They think The Band’s Visit has better scenery. 

The two-part Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, another London import, is a shoe-in for Best Play, and no argument here: even for a non-Potter fan, the show is a marvel of stagecraft and narrative ingenuity. But talk about a weak field: None of the four other nominees — The Children, Farinelli and the King, Junk and Latin History for Morons — is even still running, and (not to be cruel) I’m not so sure any of them deserves to be. The imbalance between the shortage of new plays and the abundance of worthy revivals is only emphasized by the snub for Saint Joan, which failed to get a nomination for Best Revival. The critics were surprisingly cool, but I was totally absorbed by Daniel Sullivan’s straightforward, well-acted production (with Condola Rashad as a fierce and commanding Joan) of Shaw’s great play, which is as challenging and relevant as ever. 

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